When Schools and Parents Align

seattlemikeMay 17, 2009

Attached is an excellent article written this past winter by Patrick Bassett, President of the National Association of Independent Schools. While some of it relates to choosing an independent school, much of it applies to most parent-school settings, private or public. Some of it is even about pre-school parenting.

I thought that perhaps the most intriguing point made by the author was his response to parents who say, "I just want my child to be happy." Another point that struck a chord is the one about "helicopter parents".

Your thoughts?

Here is a link that might be useful: Basset Article

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I think the article has many good points. I agree with his points that neither too little parenting or too much parenting is good, reading with kids often is crucial, and encouraging kids to be virtuous is best. I would say that there's nothing wrong with telling our kids that we want them to be successful and/or happy, as long as we explain our definition of success or happiness. Our kids need to know that happiness is not a temporary, fleeting moment of thrill, and success is not financial. I do agree that teaching our kids to be virtuous is the important thing.

Hmmm, not sure what I think about his first point about placing a high value on the child's peers.

While I certainly agree with him about helicopter parents, I think there are circumstances where parents should intervene. Teachers are just like any other profession - there are great teachers and horrible teachers, and all in between. Yes, there are parents who interfere and shouldn't. But there are many occasions when parents should speak up but don't. My son's overall high school experience was very, very good and he had some wonderful teachers. But he also had a teacher who slept in class, a teacher who used profanity and cursed students in the classroom, a teacher who was incredibly strange and finally had a breakdown and was institutionalized. I am starting to become a little wary when I hear professionals in education come down on helicopter parents without offering some type of guidelines as to when and where parents should speak up. What I am starting to see is that educators are jumping on that "helicopter" bandwagon as an excuse to avoid legitimate criticism of their classroom methods. But I would agree that there is such a thing as a "helicopter" parent, and those parents are hurting their kids, not helping.

I very much disagree with his last point about encouraging schools to be experimental and innovative. I want my children's schools to be a little careful how much experimenting and innovating they do. I think there is substantial room for improvement in the school system, but some of their methods have been around for a long time because they work. For example, some schools are shortening recess and there was discussion a few years ago that recess might be stopped. I think kids need recess - I don't want my school to experiment to see if more material can be covered if they substitute more instructional time in lieu of recess.

When my daughter was in elementary school one class of kids piloted some experimental math. It didn't work well, and those kids were behind in math for several years. I would have been very upset if that had happened to my child. Math knowledge is vertical, not horizontal, and each layer builds upon the last. Mess a kid up in history for a year and he'll be okay. Mess a kid up in math for a year and he's behind and struggling to understand the new material presented the next year. Innovation is not always good, and experiments are not always successful. The excitement of change is not always enough to overcome the handicap of not learning the material successfully.

My son's elementary school teachers were very good at integrating experimental methods along with traditional methods, and I liked that approach. If they had success with the experimental methods, then that's the direction they took in later years. But they didn't just throw caution to the winds and throw the baby out with the bathwater - they made sure they were having success with the new before they threw out the old.

If a school is innovative and experimental, then they need to have some type of measurable goal and a plan for remediation if the children aren't successful at learning the core material. Particularly if the subject is reading or math.

Encourage your school to be experimental and innovative. Experimentation and innovation are not acceptable goals in my opinion. Having an environment where children are successful in learning is the goal, not experiment and innovation. Experiment and innovation are only good if they lead to an improvement in the learning environment. I do not want to be a part of a school that prides itself on its constant search for experimental and innovative ways, any more than I want to be a part of a school that congratulates itself on a foolish insistence on tradition when there are better ways to learn.

I would agree with what I think is the premise of the title - when schools and parents align, that is the best learning environment for kids.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2009 at 2:56AM
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